Wednesday, July 18, 2018
News Roundup

Vinoy resort will ask St. Petersburg voters to approve new parking garage (with tennis courts on top)

ST. PETERSBURG — The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club is undergoing a $50 million redevelopment and part of that plan calls for building a new one-story parking garage over eight existing tennis courts.

But to move forward, the resort needs the blessing of St. Petersburg's voters. The Vinoy will pay for a Nov. 7 referendum seeking approval of the new garage.

"There's only benefits to this for the city" said Debra Feldman, vice president of capital transactions at FelCor Lodging Trust, the owner of the resort. "It doesn't change the geographic footprint of the hotel.

"We're not asking for any tax dollars and it'll keep parking off the streets and open up some new options."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club to undergo renovations in January

The language of the referendum will be discussed at a City Council committee meeting on Thursday morning. No public comment will be allowed, but the public will be able to weigh in before the council takes a final vote sometime after the members return from vacation July 13.

The new garage would be built over the tennis courts behind the resort on the south side of Seventh Avenue NE, near the corner of Bayshore Drive NE. The garage would take up 2.3 acres and offer 270 parking spaces. The tennis courts would move to the top of the new building. The Vinoy already has four tennis courts atop an existing one-story parking garage.

Those in charge said the project will help with parking congestion downtown by making more spaces available for those using the Vinoy's facilities and restaurants, which are open to the public. The Vinoy's 509 existing parking spaces are open to the public, but often filled by hotel guests and employees.

If approved, the project would take about nine months to complete, Feldman said. The new garage itself will cost an estimated $10 million.

The Vinoy acquired the land that the tennis courts currently sit on in a swap with the city in 1984. The resort traded some of its waterfront property to the city in exchange for a parcel of land behind the hotel. The land the city got from the resort is now part of Vinoy Park.

FelCor Lodging Trust said it is funding the entire project, which includes renovating the spa, fitness center, golf course clubhouse and public restaurant facilities.

This isn't the first time the Vinoy has needed voters' approval for a project. Because the hotel is part of historic downtown St. Petersburg, parts of its property are subject to deed restrictions and needs approval from city residents for construction.

In 1997, 69 percent of voters approved allowing the Vinoy to build an $8.5 million convention center, which included a ballroom, meeting and parking. In 2007, 52 percent of voters approved construction of a two-story, 17,000 square-foot health club on the property northeast of the hotel.

But past referendums have been complicated affairs in St. Petersburg.

In 2008 the Tampa Bay Rays shelved plans to hold a referendum on the team's plans to build a $450 million waterfront stadium on top of city-owned Al Lang Stadium. There was so much opposition that team officials decided to not even put it on the ballot.

Then in 2015, the $50 million Lens project was rejected by 63 percent of voters who opposed the replacement for the old St. Petersburg Pier.

But those referendums involved tax dollars. The most recent referendum to pass did not: In May, 87 percent of city voters overwhelmingly approved allowing the city to negotiate a 25-year lease with Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards to upgrade Al Lang in a bid to attract a Major League Soccer expansion team. No city money would be used to renovate the stadium, and nothing would be negotiated until MLS actually awards St. Petersburg a team.

The Rowdies paid $271,000 to hold the May 2 referendum, which attracted 28,403 voters. Vinoy officials said their referendum will cost $75,000 to $100,000.

Local leaders from the City Council and Mayor Rick Kriseman's office have been receptive to the plans for the project, Feldman said. Next the resort will conduct a campaign to educate voters and stakeholders such as local businesses before the Nov. 7 vote.

"We think we'll be successful," Feldman said.

A City Council committee is also scheduled Thursday to discuss another Nov. 7 referendum. This one would ask votes to approve giving the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission a 10-year lease for Walter Fuller Baseball Park with the option of a 10-year renewal.

   
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